Announced NHL Crowds?


Was it just me…or did anyone else notice the attendance Wednesday night at the Bank Atlantic Center, in Sunrise, FL, for the Hurricanes/Panther game?

I’m not talking about the “announced” crowd of 12,424 that the team posts on the official scoresheet.

I was wondering if my eyes have finally given way to old age and that I may be googling “Laser Surgery” sooner, rather than later?

On the surface, just over 12,000 fans doesn’t sound great but doesn’t come close either, to the hundreds, not thousands that appeared to be in the lower bowl? Where were thousands of fans hiding…in the upper level?

NHL’s Dirty Little Secret

Empty seats at Prudential Center
Empty seats at Prudential Center (photo by rubyswoon/flickr)

It’s become the NHL’s dirty little secret the last few years that “freebies” are on the rise. It’s estimated, depending on who your source is, and what franchise we are talking about, that somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 tickets are being given away at many arenas. And yes, these tickets are being counted in the “official” numbers, whether or not they are used.

With that many vouchers being handed out and with season ticket sales being included in the house numbers, not actual warm bodies coming through the turnstiles, one begins to wonder who is the greater illusionist, the NHL, or David Copperfield?

More than one blogger from the Sunshine State guestimated that there were 8,000 people in the seats, maybe less. Talk about “cooking the books?”  That’s almost 5,000 less than the announced crowd that’s already anemic, considering the Bank Atlantic Center seats 19,250 comfortably. Taken at their word, and doing the subtraction, pun intended, that leaves 6,826 empty seats.  Or only about 60% of capacity. But if you listen to Bettman’s rhetoric, his company line is always that the league is playing to somewhere in the neighborhood of 88% capacity?

Florida is not the only team struggling at the gate either. Reports out of Atlanta, Tampa, New Jersey, Dallas, Nashville, Carolina and Phoenix have them all giving away tickets in staggering amounts.

Half Empty NHL Buildings

Last season, their was a running joke in the Lightning press box among Scotty Bowman, Pat Burns and a cast of other great luminaries. They would guess what the actual attendance was in disbelief at the dwindling crowds and the half empty building.  “What will they announce tonight? Will they call it 17,500 or 18?”…and everyone would roll their eyes and chuckle.

Then, as if on cue, the P.A. announcer would blast, “tonight’s attendance is 17, 653, thank you for coming and please arrive home safely.”

If you’re an owner, and any one of the number of teams that are leaking money annually, I’m sure you are not “laughing all the way to the bank.” In fact, you are going to the bank looking for an extension amidst rumors that you cannot make payroll, as was the case last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, one might say, who really cares what the actual attendence is compared to the “official” number the NHL posts?  And who cares if they are counting season tickets sold, even when there are “no-shows?”

There’s a little thing called the Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) that will expire soon. September 15th, 2011 to be exact.

If you’ve only been paying attention to the wins and losses this season, then you are missing the rumblings and murmurs in and around the NHLPA not to mention the outright firing of their Executive Director, Paul Kelley, only weeks ago. Add to that the resigniation of interim Executive Director, Ian Penny, only days ago, citing he was “effectively dismissed” and you start to understand the magnitude of the battle that lies ahead. These are the underpinnings that hold this game together.

Players pensions, escrow accounts as well as the “salary cap” will all be effected by how the NHLPA perceives the NHL, aka, Gary Bettman, is “cooking their books.”   In that world, where the average fan has hardly aspired to be, numbers count!